UPDATE: Feds Investigating Putnam Health Department

By: Andrew Colegrove; Amanda Barren Email
By: Andrew Colegrove; Amanda Barren Email
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UPDATE 10/3/13 @ 9 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – The Putnam Board of Health held their first meeting Thursday night since it was announced they are under federal investigation.

The Putnam County Health Department was taken over by Kanawha County after they fell into serious financial trouble earlier this year, in debt nearly $400,000 dollars.

Not many details about the investigation have been released, but the feds are reviewing what happened in the months and years before Kanawha County took over.

Andy Skidmore is on the Putnam County Commission and was appointed to the health board in July after the transition.

He says he doesn't know what the federal investigation specifically involves.

"I've not been contacted, being a new board member,” Skidmore said. “It's not anything that's been brought to my attention."

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Executive Director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, says they've been fully cooperative with the investigation, but still $100,000 in federal grant for emergency preparedness is being withheld.

Gupta says that's unfairly punishing the residents of Putnam County.

"We have done everything in our power to provide all the documentation, repeated documentation, and repeated communications,” Gupta said. “However, we're still awaiting final approval of the grant."

Gupta says the board, for now, can afford to pay for services that grant normally pays for, but they'll eventually no longer be able to do so.

UPDATE 9/25/13 @ 9:30 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A partnership between two health departments is showing to be a good move, according to health officials.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and the Putnam County Health Department, said there has been a 283 percent increase in services in Putnam County since Putnam County and Kanawha County formed a partnership on July 1.

During a meeting with the Finance Subcommittee B of the WV Legislature, Dr. Gupta said the Putnam County budget has decreased by about 41 percent from about $1.25 million to $743,000.

Gupta said the model that has been developed between Kanawha County and Putnam County could be used to help other health departments that are experiencing financial problems.

UPDATE 8/19/13 @ 11:45 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- More changes in store for the Putnam County Health Department were discussed Monday night by board members.

They announced they are looking to move into a new building and they are hiring more staff. They elected Brian Escue as the new chairman. He said he can't wait to get to work and help the Board of Health during the transition.

The Putnam County Health Department has undergone major changes, basically shutting down after facing a slew of financial problems.

Board members say they are now on the road to recovery.

UPDATE 6/25/13 @ 7:15 p.m.
TEAYS VALLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Tuesday was a day full of mixed emotions at the Putnam County Health Department.

A dozen full-time employees and one part-time employee all lost their jobs Monday in a move to allow the department to reorganize financially.

One of those employees will be able to retire.

Six employees will be rehired. The others will get preferential treatment within the states hiring system.

Until the state approves the layoffs, it is business as usual as much as it can be. Inspectors are out in the field, and people who stop by are getting the services they need.

However, records are being packed, and patients are being called -- letting them know that vaccination appointments either need to be moved to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department or postponed until a new or temporary location is set up.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, is currently looking for a new, less expensive location for the PCHD to set up shop.

Lolita Kirk, who works for the KCHD and is now heading up the PCHD, says the goal is to have a location by July 1.

If not, vaccinations can be given and other services will be set up, like many other vaccination clinics in remote locations.

"So in the meantime," Kirk said, if there are people needing services before we have a location, we are going to come down here and provide services. It's not like we are going to stay in Kanawha until we are open here."

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information, including where the department will call home.

UPDATE 6/24/13 @ 9 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Putnam Board of Health approved a proposal to cut the entire staff at the Putnam County Health Department.

The board agreed on the decision unanimously at an emergency meeting Monday afternoon, which was a continuation of a meeting Friday.

If the proposal is approved by the state's Division of Personnel, 12 full-time employees will lose their jobs.

County Commissioner and board member Joe Haynes says the layoffs are their best option amidst major debt problems.

"We could limp along as we are, maybe reduce staff a little bit, but ultimately, that's going to hurt the quality of service,” Haynes said, “so we think the better thing to do is completely reduce the staff to zero.”

Haynes says the health department is more than $200,000 in debt after unexpectedly high legal fees in a personnel issue, and they’d also expanded services and moved into a new building with a higher rent.

"Rather than the typical things you expect out of the health department, we wanted to expand and do more clinical services,” Haynes said. “The problem with that was you're competing with all the urgent cares and all the other private entities around, so it never really panned out."

If the state approves the proposal, the board will be contracting the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to provide services in Putnam County, and some of the employees cut may get their jobs back through the new setup.

The board says hopefully they'll be able fix their debt problems within the next two years and return to how they used to operate.

After six months, they'll decide if they want to continue contracting through the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department or try something else.

The board says despite all the changes, people in Putnam County will not see any change in the services the health department provides.

UPDATE 6/24/13 @ 5:53 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.VA. (WSAZ) -- During a meeting Monday evening, the Putnam Health Department laid off its entire staff.

The layoffs affect 12 employees.

The health department has been struggling to cover debts, like legal fees and $80,000 in rent.

The situation will be reevaluated by the department in six months.

Keep clicking WSAZ.com for the latest information.

PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Fourteen people may soon find themselves out of a job.

After an emergency meeting Friday afternoon, the Putnam County Board of Health said cutting every position at the health department is their best option at this point amidst major debt problems.

County Commissioner and board member Joseph Haynes says the department is more than $200,000 in debt.

Thirteen full-time employees and one part-time employee would be cut if a motion by the board is passed.

Haynes blames the financial problems on what he calls bad judgment from the previous administration.

"We had a personnel issue, which I won't go into, that ended up in litigation,” Haynes said. “We hired an attorney. The legal fees ended up being a great deal more than anybody anticipated. Some of these attorney fees were paid before other things, vendors, rent, things that should have been at the top of their priority list."

The health department also moved into a new headquarters and expanded services that didn't do well financially.

If the proposal is approved by the state, the board will be contracting the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to provide services in Putnam County.

Haynes says some of the employees cut may soon get their jobs back through the new setup.

"They already live here, they already know the area,” Haynes said. “I won't say that will definitely happen, but it is a distinct possibility folks will just change who they get their paycheck from, and they'll be providing the services they've always provided."

The board is planning to have another emergency meeting where they can approve the motion. That meeting may take place over the weekend.

Haynes says residents of Putnam County won't see any change to their services, and the only thing different will be the location, which will be determined later.

Haynes also says this solution is temporary.

"At the end of the term of that contract, whether it's six months, a year, whatever, if we're ready to go back into business for ourselves, we just say ‘thank you Kanawha-Charleston, we don't need you any longer,’" Haynes said.

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